Thursday, September 30, 2010

Paul Hankins Speaks Loudly

Paul W. Hankins teaches 11th Grade English and AP English Language and Composition in southern Indiana. He is the creator/moderator of RAW INK Online, a digital learning community that connects his students with the Young Adult authors they are reading. Recently, Hankins created the hashtag campaign, #SpeakLoudly and now co-hosts the new site with David Macinnis Gill. Hankins lives in southern Indiana with his wife, son, and daughter (and a very needy cat and a co-dependent dog). A writer, Hankins' work can be found in an anthology, Where Handstands Surprise Us and Motif 2: Chance. Read as he speaks loudly on banning:

Wow. One week into the #SpeakLoudly Campaign and despite the fact that I came up with #SpeakLoudly, I have, on more than one occasion, found myself speechless. Going through the posts today, I see an AOL OpEd written by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Again. Wow. How does this happen? I just haven't really had the time to sit back to take a look at the whole of #SpeakLoudly, and even as I draft this blog for Jeremy's site, I see new posts (tweets) coming in on the #SpeakLoudly hashtag.

Maybe I could offer a little bit about why I have only just begun to be a little more passionate about intellectual freedom when it comes to title selection. In order to begin to share this, I have to take you all the way back to 1976, a year most symbolic of freedom.

My parents were Jehovah's Witnesses. In an age of celebrate-then educate, I hated when teachers would put all of the students's birthdays on the bulletin board. When my day would come, my stomach would just ache in anticipation of disappointing my classmates. And when their special days come, I would sit in the hallway with the last remnants of the scent of pink frosted cupcakes, those I would never taste in communion with my classmates. I was the kid who could follow the instructions of the teachers, and was reminded to do so, right up to the point where their instruction would be in conflict with my Kingdom Hall teaching. So, in October, I made plain orange pumpkins and was the first one finished. And in December I made plain pine trees. . .and was the first one finished.

Once, a second grade teacher (name withheld just in case she has been too spiteful to leave teaching despite this incident taking place 32 years ago), told me "If you cannot do what the other students are doing, perhaps you shouldn't attend a public school." Year after year challenges would present as I tried to reconcile who I was at home and who I was expected to be at school. In time, I would celebrate the first day of school if I noted there were no other Witness children in my class. And I remember the first birthday treat I consumed in the room under the curious watch of my teacher.

And what might banning books have to do with any of this? My reading during this time was limited to Watchtower publications. I had to read and annotate (underline) a Tuesday night book study book, prepare a short message for the Thursday Theocratic Ministry School, and read from the Watchtower for the Sunday morning discussion of the materials. I supplemented these readings with My Book of Bible Stories and the Watchtower equivalent of People, Awake!. I was a good reader and had little difficulty navigating the books I was expected to read. But, I lacked one important element to my budding literacy.

Someone with whom to share the things I was reading and how I was processing them.

My teachers didn't get (and I would have to guess that they didn't appreciate), my explorations of Armageddon or my attempts to describe the 144,000 and what it might mean to the faculty of Ottawa Elementary School. The only people with whom I could share my ideas were those who I could sense did not understand the material they way I was processing it (seemingly reading comprehension is something to be considered when offering theological materials). And these same kids were the ones who would remind me--daily--of the many elements outside of Jehovah's Kingdom that were "Babylon the Great" to include: disco, cut-off jean shorts, and those big plastic Pixy Sticks that almost killed another Witness boy who almost suffocated on the sheer amount of powder he attempted to pour down his throat.

What my parents never knew, is--that under my bed--I kept publications like Mad, Cracked, Dynamite. . .and Playboy (okay. Not really, but I wanted you think me most rebellious). I read these along with Reader's Digest and the TV Guide (remember when it used to have these fantastic front and back sections filled with media/television-related articles?). I knew at an early age that all of this reading could be good for me. I knew that anyone who might keep it from me was only setting limitations upon what I could add to my toolbox. My witty openers to my Thursday night messages actually came from the joke sections of Reader's Digest. I could keep my classmates off my religion by acting out scenes from Mad parodies.

I had learned important lessons in my early years of school. There are entities that would set to divide us along philosophical, political, and socio-economic lines (I might share that many Jehovah's Witnesses in my area were working poor. College was not encouraged as full-time ministry was celebrated of high school graduates). The withholding of a book or title, under any pretense, is to deny the reference of the right reader at the right time in the right context. Who knows which sound bite from a speaker will come from a person who was allowed to read freely? Age branding books, setting limitations based upon reading levels, not putting books on library shelves that run counter to our own beliefs or preferences are all forms of censorship. A curriculum that limits choice or keeps the reader within one scope or sequence and does not foster reader choice in title selection is as much censorship as my earlier experiences with the Watchtower Society. This is a week to celebrate reader choice from the number of titles that might speak to the reader.

The #SpeakLoudly campaign, for this reader, is all about celebrating access to books. Lots and lots of books. Including, but not limited to Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer, and Kurt Vonegutt's Slaughter House Five. In addition, the #SpeakLoudly campaign is about fostering independent choice and understanding that a learned practitioner can provide reader advisory and guidance. There are readers out there who are just waiting for that title that will fuel their life-long love for reading. To ban or limit access to titles pens in authors and readers alike. I want to thank Jeremy for inviting me to be a part of this blog roll. I want to celebrate Jeremy and his ability to blog along and interact within the YA community.

I will definitely be following this blog to see where Jeremy's connection to YA takes him in the future. And I will #SpeakLoudly for books to remain accessible to readers so that they can be part of these conversations.
You can find Paul online at Facebook and Follow him on Twitter by clicking on either of the links. Be sure to thank him and let him know that you #SpeakLoudly.


  1. Paul,
    I've got chills after reading your blog post. I hope you continue your work for the freedom of all to read what they desire and more importantly what they need when they need it. That need is first felt within the reader and later fulfilled by the book. So many readers, including myself, have been changed for the better by books and have chosen life over death BECAUSE OF A BOOK.

    Books, despite our religious/philosophical views, change lives. And that is reason enough to fight censorship.

    Thank you, Paul! #SpeakLoudly

  2. The new theme on the page makes the words appear very light. Like the post has been quieted somehow.

  3. I would never silence you, Paul. :P I didn't realize this and it's been fixed! It was good to go back and read this post again nearly two years later :)

  4. Slick theme, great post. I was not on the blogosphere back when #SpeakLoudly started, but I'm sure I inadvertently reaped the benefits as a teacher trying to find great books for his classroom library. Paul, thanks for creating so much great writing on the web, and Jeremy, keep up the great work!